The Debate Continues

Essays on Old Testament Hermeneutics, edited by Claus Westermann (John Knox, 1963, 363 pp., $7.50), is reviewed by Charles F. Pfeiffer, professor of Old Testament Literature, Gordon Divinity School, Wenham, Massachusetts.

The interpretation of the Old Testament and the relation between Old and New Testaments have been the subjects of lively debate since World War II. Claus Westermann has assembled fifteen essays, originally published in German, to provide a basis for discussion of these important themes. The contributors include the best-known names in German Old Testament scholarship: Gerhard von Rad, Martin Noth, Friedrich Baumgartel, Walther Zimmerli, Westermann himself, and a number of others.

Although the scholars differ among themselves at numerous points, they agree in insisting that the text of Scripture must be studied in the light of contemporary knowledge of history and philology. Westermann seeks to deal with two problems: (1) the relation between the story of the acts of God as testified to by the people of God and the history of Israel as seen by historical research; and (2) the relation of the Old Testament to the New Testament, particularly the search for a valid concept for establishing the unity between the two Testaments.

Zimmerli, writing the chapter “Promise and Fulfillment.” sees faith in Christ as an answer. While rejecting the idea that an apologetic proof for Christ can be derived from the Old Testament, he suggests that the believer may recognize in the Old Testament a book of genuine allusions to Jesus Christ. Rudolf Bultmann in his article “Prophecy and Fulfillment” is more negative in his conclusions. He affirms that the New Testament writers used the same exegetical principles as did Philo. Even to Bultmann, however, there is a valid way of seeing Christ through the Old Testament. The “miscarriage” of Old Testament history itself provides a ray of hope. The history of failure so prominent in the writings of the Old Testament is to the eye of faith, says Bultmann, a promise.

Von Rad, writing on “Typological Interpretation of the Old Testament,” disowns the practice of focusing attention on historical or biographical details, but insists that typological interpretation rightly understood is valid. He says, “… typological interpretation has to do only with the witness to the divine event, not with such correspondence in historical, cultural, or archaeological details as the Old Testament and the New may have in common.” It is the kerygma, rather than narrative details, that finds expression in Old Testament typology.

Article continues below

The variety of ideas gathered together for our instruction by Westermann underscores the gulf between scientific biblical study and popular understanding. Baumgartel in his article “The Hermeneutical Problem of the Old Testament” notes the tension existing between biblical science and the Church, and makes it clear that the fault is not all on one side. Research has as its aim the discovery of truth. Westermann’s collection of essays will provide no pat answers, but it will provide food for thought in the hands of mature scholars of both Old and New Testaments.


With Vigor And Clarity

Four Prophets, by J. B. Phillips (Geoffrey Bles, 1963, 161 pp., 15s.), is reviewed by J. A. Motyer, vice-principal, Clifton Theological College, Bristol, England.

No book can escape without some adverse criticism. However, since it is the object of this review to accord warm praise to this translation of Amos, Hosea, Isaiah 1–35, and Micah, it may be well to dispose of the complaints first. It is a pity that the introduction, which displays such sensitivity toward the requirements of the Hebrew language, should give the impression of textual disorder in these prophetical books, and should suggest that it is but a moment’s work for “scholars” to diagnose and cure the complaint. In the same way, we can only regret that translations have been offered of amended texts without any annotation of the fact in footnotes, and that the verse order of the Massoretic text has been sometimes upset without, be it said, either a word of justification or a compensating advantage in clarity. The translator allocated the task of historical introduction to the Rev. E. H. Robertson, but the resulting prose-poem, dwelling on the contemporary movements in pagan thought as much as on the state of the people of God, and urging that “over the whole world the Spirit of God stirred the spirit of man,” not only seriously damages the uniqueness of these inspired prophets, but leaves the general reader without a sharp awareness of the situation they faced.

In the translation itself, it is a major tragedy that no attempt was made to represent the Divine Name (even the traditional device of capital letters is absent), with consequent loss of accuracy and of theological and devotional flavor. And, of course (though subjectivity is necessarily rampant here), there are times where one is forced to say that “the old is better”: for example, “Make yourselves ready to meet your God” is inferior to “Prepare to meet thy God” (Amos 4:12); the passover reference is missed in, “I will not relent again” (Amos 7:8); “Husks will be your food” (Isa. 1:20) both manhandles the text and loses robustness. One matter, however, where the old has been retained to the detriment of clarity is the divine appellation, “of hosts.” Could not Phillips have turned his skillful hand to paraphrase this?

Article continues below

Turning away, in the second place, from adverse criticism, there is no doubt that we have here a notable addition to Bible translations. The prophetical books offer to the general reader a sort of literary Sahara, and to the translator the biggest challenge in the Bible. In so ably meeting the latter, Phillips has gone far to overcome the former. He has broken up the text with his own system of shoulder-headings, and usually has illuminated the meaning of the passage by setting its direction in this way. We would expect a vigorous translation, and we find it: “… compose melodies as though you were David himself” (Amos 6:5); “… seen, seized, and swallowed all in a moment” (Isa. 28:4); “No, we must have horses to ride, Very well, you shall ride—in full retreat! We must have swift horses, you say; Your pursuers will be swifter still!” (Isa. 30:16).

Phillips is too experienced a translator to try to reproduce the Hebrew puns of Micah 1, but, because he is not afraid of the accusation of paraphrasing, he carefully makes each clear: “In Aphrah, the house of dust, grovel in the dust” (1:10), and so on. In individual matters readers will be interested to know that in Isaiah 7:14 is found “maiden”; that “Adam” is retained in Hosea 6:7. However, the messianic reference is virtually excluded in Isaiah 4:1 and 32:1. To vigor and clarity, Phillips often adds moments of rare feeling and beauty. Isaiah 33:17–24 is outstanding, but is only one of many places where the reader is moved to read again and again, and always with profit.

The translation is, on the whole, accurate, although, of course, there are points at which a different view of the meaning could be urged. For example, Hosea 13:14 is translated as a question, and the passage is not held to express a hope after death. This sort of difference of opinion is inevitable, but the over-all excellence of this work remains.


Belief And Unbelief

Atheism in Our Time, by Ignace Lepp, translated by Bernard Murchland (Macmillan, 1963, 195 pp., $5), is reviewed by Carl F. H. Henry, editor, CHRISTIANITY TODAY.

Article continues below

This remarkable and readable analysis of the psychology of unbelief comes from the pen of French priest-psychotherapist Ignace Lepp, onetime Marxist atheist, whose career as journalist and professor pays sound dividends in the organization and exposition of his theme. Dr. Lepp warns that atheism today is “well on the way to becoming the common norm of society” (p. 6), and surveys types of atheism represented by Marx, Rostand, Sartre, and Nietzsche.

Modern atheism differs from atheism in earlier times by its extension and absoluteness. Most atheists recognize Christianity as their chief ideological enemy, although the ground of unbelief is existential rather than rational. They are occupied more with counterattack than with elaborating an alternate positive view of reality.

Although he lived in Western Europe during his first twenty-five years, Lepp met not a single believing Christian. He did meet numbers who had forsaken their churches. He joined the Communist party at fifteen without a prior religious commitment, and fell in line with its anti-religious crusade. Harnack and Feuerbach and Nietzsche were quoted to undermine faith in Christ’s deity. In university studies he was taught Aquinas’s five-fold proof of God’s existence, but “they prove nothing to one who does not have the faith” (p. 16).

He had no fear of death, no hope of personal immortality, no troubling “metaphysical unrest.” For Communism had become his all-engaging “religion,” and supplied for him that “transcendent” or “absolute” which every life must serve (p. 24). “This unshakeable faith in the future of communism was in fact the positive component of my psychological synthesis as an atheist” (p. 27). “Existentially, the subjective transcendence communism provided for me performed exactly the same psychological function as divine transcendence.… Precisely this awareness of living for something very great … makes the conversion of a sincere Communist to religious faith almost impossible. There is no room in him for supernatural grace” (pp. 28 f.). “Acceptance of divine revelation presupposes in the subject a natural awareness of insufficiency or dissatisfaction” (p. 30).

It was disillusionment over the Communist party (the treason of Stalinists) that led to Lepp’s defection and preceded his conversion, which occurred after a period of “metaphysical anxiety.” “It did not seem logical that being endowed with a capacity for thinking and loving could be thrown into an absurd universe, where there was nothing to think, nothing to love, nothing to hope for. It was with these psychological dispositions that I encountered the Christian message” (p. 34).

Article continues below

The author reflects his Catholic perspectives in the ready categorizing of other religious groups as “sects” (p. 14), his minimizing of medieval superstitions (p. 17), and his implication that Protestant churches are less hostile to Communism than Catholic churches (pp. 17 f). He still derives man and monkey from a common ancestor (p. 25), but does not now exclude “creation” (p. 26).

The missionary challenge of Lepp’s book is inescapable. “Believers, in the old countries of Christianity,” he writes, “have no idea how firmly shut off they are from the mental world of unbelievers” (p. 23). Nowhere had he been confronted with the works of Christian beliefs. Worse yet, it is “the unbelief of believers” much more than that of the genuine atheists which is “the real cause of the desacralization of the modern world, of its descent into the most sordid of pragmatic ‘materialisms’ ” (p. 190) because their attitude toward the concrete problems of life is “exactly the same as that of … atheistic or agnostic colleagues.”


The Nature Of Church Unity

The Dynamics of Christian Unity: A Symposium on the Ecumenical Movement, compiled and edited by W. Stanley Mooneyham (Zondervan, 1963, 116 pp., $2.50), is reviewed by James Daane, editorial associate, CHRISTIANITY TODAY.

This book contains the messages about Christian unity delivered at conferences sponsored by the National Association of Evangelicals. While it glows with the spiritual warmth of men committed to Christ, theologically it is a strange book.

The Church is confessed to be one, and unity to be of her essence. Yet the unity is only organic, spiritual, not organizational, structural. She is one, it is maintained, in the “sole way” that Christ prayed for her unity. “The Pauline doctrine of the church refutes the common ecumenical argument that somehow [sic!] separated denominations lacerate our Lord’s body.” It is urged that “the possibility of a fragmented body because of separate organizations is an absurd idea.…” One conference lecturer urges, “We can manifest spiritual unity regardless of continued organizational diversity. We can manifest it by fellowship together, worship together, study together, prayer together, witness together, service together, and perhaps suffering together.” This statement sounds like a dream talking. Separated denominations that can do all these things together have no reason or justification for being structurally separated. They have lost, or never had, the right of separate existence. Moreover, there are many denominations that take their distinctive doctrinal positions seriously and cannot do these things together, and are therefore separated. When the World Council churches meet and celebrate Holy Communion in several different ways, they are revealing a seriousness of conviction that makes this view of theological differences look like utter indifference.

Article continues below

The contention that the New Testament churches were not organizationally united is, on many scores, misleading. For one thing, these churches did not exclude the members and ministers of other churches from their pulpits and from celebrations of Holy Communion. To assert that modern denominationalism is simply a reflection of interchurch relations obtaining in the New Testament period is to romanticize the facts. Is the Church really empirically one in the way that Jesus prayed for it? Did Jesus really pray for a structurally divided Church of separated parts that would rival and compete with each other on the mission field, for a divided Church whose parts would not honor one another’s sacraments and ministers? To ask the question is to answer it; yet it is a question that this symposium on the ecumenical movement does not ask. The writers simply assert that Christians of all churches can together, as a matter of fact, do everything necessary to express the unity of the Church. It is even asserted that “loyalty to the New Testament may compel us to fight against organizational unity.” And even more incredibly: “loyalty to the New Testament does not necessitate organizational union. Quite the reverse! It warrants a continued plurality of churches.” One of the basic weaknesses of the book is that it persistently thinks of Christians rather than of churches, a weakness that disqualifies it from the very start to deal with the ecumenical problem.

It just happens, by Christ’s own ordination and by apostolic injunction, that the Church in this world consists of more than individual Christians. She is also comprised of “offices,” which grant their occupants authority within the Church. These “offices” bespeak organizational and ecclesiastical structure which cannot, without violating the teaching of the New Testament, be “spiritualized” in the sense of dissolving structure and organization, for such spiritualization dissolves both the office and the authority it carries.

Article continues below

Since God alone is the Lord of the conscience, the right to oppose the authority of the Church must ever be allowed as an open, legitimate possibility; but it is by no means a desirable state of affairs. It is a measure to be employed only in extreme circumstances. Moreover, the act of separation (as distinguished from the separated existence) is always illegitimate. He who in the name of conscience opposes the authority of the Church may be put out, but he may not, by his own choice, get out. The act that separates is always an evil and sinful act, and whoever causes it must bear the responsibility. Whenever it occurs, something is profoundly wrong with the Church. When it is urged in this book (not consistently) that separation is a normal and biblically warranted thing, a quite legitimate thing because it occurs, in distinction from schismatic action, on the basis of the essentials rather than the details of the Gospel, then separation is unbiblically legitimatized and schism is given new definition.

This book reveals a fear that a single unified Church would mean church tyranny, a fear that is easily understood in view of the will to power found in many churchmen of any denomination. The history of the Church, past and current, does little to allay this fear. Nevertheless, our theology of the Church should be derived from the Bible, not from our fears—nor should it be overlooked that the general position of this book on separation and church authority quite accurately reflects the actual condition of the Church today, with its almost total loss of ecclesiastical authority. But if the situation is biblically warranted, then the ecumenical movement, even in its most ideal form, is illegitimate, and any ecumenical concern, rightly defined, is outside the authentic concerns of those who hold the position of this book.

What this book understands by the “spiritual” nature of the unity of the Church leaves no room within the Church for the “offices” that Paul recognized as being part of the reality designated by the term “Church.” In the New Testament view, the Church contains “offices.” These offices bespeak a unity and an organizational structuring of the Church which is other than what this book means by the Church’s “spiritual” unity. They (the offices) exclude as illegitimate what this book means by “separation.” They make every exercise in regard to church unity an exercise of conscience, that is, an exercise over against a duly instituted authority, and not a mere exercise of isolated, individual right.

Article continues below

To support what is designated as the “Biblical Basis of Christian Unity” the book appeals to Emil Brunner. But it is significant that the appeal overlooks, or does not know, that Brunner, in order to maintain his position that the Church is a fellowship and not an organization, renounces the teaching of the pastoral epistles about the offices of the Church as an error. Brunner honestly admits this. This book is apparently unaware that it must attribute the same error to the Bible in order to claim biblical sanction for its view of the exclusively “spiritual” unity of the Church.

With this venture into the study of the nature of the Church, NAE has at last begun to engage in theological studies of ecumenical problems. Like most beginnings, it is not auspicious. But it is a beginning and perhaps a promise of better things to come.


Book Briefs

The International Book of Christmas Carols, by Walter Ehret and George K. Evans (Prentice-Hall, 1963, 338 pp., $10). One hundred and sixty-four carols from all parts of the world in their original languages, with accompanying English translations. With music, explanatory notes, introduction. A book of fine craftsmanship, and an excellent Christmas gift.

The Stars of Christmas, by J. Robert Watt (Abingdon, 1963, 80 pp., $2.50). A warm kindly presentation of the Christmas story. A fine Christmas gift.

When Christmas Came to Bethlehem, by Charles L. Allen and Charles L. Wallis (Revell, 1963, 64 pp., $1.50). Pleasantly written; will be read with pleasure.

Tales of Christmas from Near and Far, edited by Herbert H. Wernecke (Westminster, 1963, 232 pp., $3.95). Thirty-three Christmas stories gathered from many countries the world over, each with its local color.

The Meaning of Gifts, by Paul Tournier (John Knox, 1963, 63 pp., $2). An enlightening little Christian essay on how the giving of a gift expresses the giver, and affects the receiver.

Faiths for the Few: A Study of Minority Religions, by William J. Whalen (Bruce Publishing Company, 1963, 201 pp., $3.75). A Roman Catholic discusses twenty-two “minority religions”—including Free Masonry, Moral Re-Armament, Pentecostalism, Seventh-Day Adventism, Old Catholicism. The treatments are informative and rich with interesting detail; the theological analysis is shallow and fragmentary.

Bible Paradoxes, by R. Earl Allen (Revell, 1963, 128 pp., $2.50). Short, helpful, perceptive essays on the many paradoxical aspects of the Christian faith.

That One Good Sermon, by Alfred Nevin Sayres (United Church Press, 1963, 95 pp., $2.50). A preacher through a layman tells other preachers what goes into and makes a good sermon.

Documents of Democracy: The Declaration of Independence, The United States Constitution, The Gettysburg Address (Revell, 1963, 64 pp., $1). Handy reference book and, of course, good reading for every American.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.